Whether the CFL cares to admit it or not they are essentially the second most recognized professional football league in the world next to the almighty NFL. Due to this it is expected that other spring leagues popping up will in turn somehow affect the CFL’s player pool, by acquiring some players that otherwise would have chosen to head North to play. Although the salaries, and incentives to play in the CFL are much more impressive than the upstart USFL, I have a hunch we will see several familiar player names jump to the new league in 2022.
The USFL has once major thing going for it when it comes to attracting former CFL talent to their league. That is the fact that they went out and hired three different head coaches with ties to the CFL in one way or another.
These men are Mike Riley, Bart Andrus, and Kirby Wilson. Now it’s been many years since these guys have been a part of the CFL, but they are now direct competition for the same level of talent the CFL is looking to acquire on a yearly basis.
Mike Riley is the type of coach who has been all over. He has experience coaching at the college level, and has been a coach in the CFL, World League of Football, NFL, AAF, XFL, and now the USFL. He is very familiar with the player base that frequents these leagues that operate in the shadow of the NFL. He has spent his last 4 stints as a coach at either the college, AAF, XFL, and USFL level meaning he will have very recent knowledge and connections with players already available and seeking jobs.
Maybe there is a good portion of the 3,000 players that have joined the USFL player pool that he already knows in one way or another. However I would think this experience in these leagues will be a huge boon for Riley who is serving as a general manager for the first time in his career. Riley spent 4 seasons in the CFL as a DB coach with Winnipeg from 1987-1990. Also during his stint in the WLF he was the coach of the San Antonio Riders, when the WLF was folding the Riders attempted to move to the CFL, but folded before they were able to make the move. Had this not happened who knows how many years Riley would have spent in the CFL.
Next up is Bart Andrus. Andrus is another very experienced head coach, but he spent just 1 season in the CFL coaching the Toronto Argonauts in 2009 to just 3 wins in his only experience with the CFL. He too has experience at the NFL, CFL, NCAA, NFLEL, The Spring League, XFL, and UFL. Once again proving the USFL is choosing these coaches on purpose.
Whether it is because of their love of developing players, or their familiarity with these types of leagues it was a smart approach because I truly believe it will help draw talent from the other competing leagues. Andrus may bring just 1 year of CFL experience with him but he was the most recent CFL coach on this list.
The last man on this list is Kirby Wilson. Wilson is the only person on this list to have played in the CFL himself, but he never coached in the CFL, or any other spring league for that matter. Wilson played as a defensive back and kick returner spending 1983 with Winnipeg, and 1984 with Toronto. In 1985 he began coaching and never looked back.
He started at the community college level for 3 seasons spread between 6 seasons from 1985-1990. In 1991 he got his first break into the college game coaching for Southern Illinois a Division 1-AA school. By 1997 he landed in the NFL as a RB coach, a title he would go on to hold for over 20 years. He was a coach in the NFL all the way up until the 2020 season with the Raiders before being let go. He has since been named the Head Coach and General Manager of the Pittsburgh Maulers.
Wilson is the only man to not have previous experience as a head coach so it should be interesting to see how he translates. Wilson may have very little in the way of connections left to the CFL, but I could see his past as a player drawing fellow players knowing he has played the game at a high level.
Ultimately bringing in coaches with this sort of experience is just one more tactic to try and draw better talent, and more established names to the league to draw a fan base. These coaches also likely draw fans from the squads they are best known for coaching from around the country.
All of this was done in an effort to get the league a quick foothold in the Spring Football world, so they don’t follow the fate of the UFL, or AAF when they were forced to fold mid season due to a lack of talent on the field, and a lack of fan base in the stands. The USFL is approaching the 2022 season in a cost friendly, fan friendly approach with a single hub for regular season games, before moving to a stadium that sits right next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for their postseason and championship game.
They are slowly releasing information to build anticipation for the upcoming launch of their league, but with just a little over a month left before the season begins does the USFL have enough to steam to truly garner a niche in the market, and or eventually challenge the CFL for NFL offseason superiority? Only time will tell.
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